Perkins on Law and Gospel

Perkins ProphesyingPerkins on Law and Gospel

In a previous post I shared William Perkins’ summary of the task of preaching.  Here I’d like to share a few quotes about application and on the Law and Gospel Distinction.

Perkins states: “Application is the skill by which the doctrine which has been properly drawn from Scripture is handled in ways which are appropriate to the circumstances of the place and time and to the people in the congregation” (p. 52).  Perkins was very aware that different people needed the truths about reality and Godto be driven home to their hearts in different ways.  In fact, Perkins gives 7 categories of listeners which we are preaching to (53-60), all of who need to hear the turth about God in different ways.  He stood in the Reformed tradition which argued for a recognition of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.  In all of Scripture we have either the Law or the Gospel.  The Law tells us what is required of us (you shall have no other gods, you shall not lie, you shall love your neighbor, you shall not covet) but the Gospel tells us about what God has done in delivering and rescuing us (God sent His Son Jesus, who by the power of the Holy Spirit lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, rising in his resurrection, saving us from death, wrath, and hell).

With this in mind, here is how Perkins believed preachers should distinguish between the Law and the Gospel in their sermons:

“The basic principle in application is  to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel.  For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently.  The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect stimulates and stirs it up.  But it provides no remedy for it.  However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it.  When we are regenerated by him we receive the strength we need both to believe the gospel and to do what it commands.  The law is, therefore, first in the order of teaching; then comes the gospel”  (p.52).

The Law shows us our need for a Savior and convicts us of our sin,  so it must come first.  If this does not happen, then individuals will not see their need for a Savior; the gospel to these individuals will appear unneccessary and not precious or wonderful.  Perkins would have us then show our hearers the terrors of the Law before leading them to the majestic remedy that we have in Christ.  A good preacher knows how to use both the Law and the Gospel in his sermons.

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